Copper controversy

Saint Paul Legal Ledger Capitol Report
February 23, 2009

Metro lawmakers want to impose new strictures on sulfide mines

A bill that would place additional financial and environmental requirements on sulfide mines in Minnesota is pitting Twin Cities legislators against the Iron Range delegation.

Rep. David Dill, DFL-Crane Lake, said a bill that was introduced Thursday would kill an emerging form of mining in Minnesota for nonferrous metals including copper and nickel.

"It's interesting that the folks that are authoring that bill don't live up there. We're the ones who have kept that water clean for many centuries," Dill said.

Sen. Jim Carlson, DFL-Eagan, said his bill would assure that taxpayers aren't left holding the bag for environmental clean-up if a copper mining company goes bankrupt and leaves.

"We want to make sure the area is protected, that the citizens are protected up there and that the citizens of Minnesota are protected from the cost to finish this up if the mining company walks away," Carlson said.

So far, Minnesota doesn't have any sulfide mines in operation. But the PolyMet company is in the advanced stages of pursuing a permit from the state to mine copper on the former LTV Steel Mining Co.'s taconite plant near Hoyt Lakes.

Carlson's proposal would require the commissioner of Department of Natural Resources (DNR), in consultation with other relevant state agencies, to come up with an estimated amount of money the state would need to close a mine. The state would require financial assurance from mining companies in forms that could include cash, letters of credit or bonds. The DNR would investigate each year whether the financial assurances are adequate.

Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, chief author of the House bill, said the measure is a compromise that stops short of a moratorium on sulfide mining in Minnesota. Wisconsin, she said, had problems with contamination and opted for a moratorium.

"What it's not is a moratorium. …I would say it's safe mining," Hausman said.

Dill, however, said the financial requirements would kill potential projects.

"If you want to buy a $1 million house and you can afford a $100,000 house, you've got a moratorium against buying a $1 million house," Dill said.

Hausman's bill has been referred to the House Environment Policy and Oversight Committee.

In the Senate, Carlson's bill was referred to the Environment and Natural Resources Committee.

Copper mining brings up sulfur-rich deposits. The sulfur becomes acidic when it is exposed to oxygen. If the acid is not treated, it can pollute lakes and streams and kill organisms in the water.

In addition to the financial assurance requirements, the bill would prohibit mines that need ongoing water treatment after they close.

Dill said the provisions about water treatment, like those requiring financial commitments, would effectively kill copper mining projects.

"If it says you can't do that, then it's a moratorium," Dill said.

Rep. Tom Anzelc, DFL-Balsam Township, said he and other northern Minnesota legislators feel comfortable with the existing financial assurances and the rules that are established to permit a mine.

"Why would we knowingly and willingly risk our own water?" Anzelc said.

Anzelc's northern Minnesota district has been hit hard by the downturn in the economy and layoffs at U.S. Steel's taconite plant in Keewatin. But he said the need for jobs is balanced with environmental concerns.

But Carlson said he wants the laws backed up with an up-front financial commitment.

"If they close up their mine and they are not able to handle the reclamation or the mitigation of pollution, then these are false jobs," Carlson said.

Middle ground on non-ferrous mining?

Mesabi Daily News
Februar 21, 2009

ST. PAUL – Bob Tammen of Soudan worked as an electrician in the taconite mines on and off for 30 years.

Tammen and his wife traveled to the State Capitol Thursday to voice their support for newly introduced legislation that would place requirements, which critics characterize as prohibitions, on non-ferrous mines in Minnesota.

Although he still supports the taconite industry, he's becoming increasingly worried about the environmental of mines on the land around him. Tom Bakk of Cook was already at the State Capitol on Thursday going about his work in the legislative session. And part of his job this year as a DFL state senator from the Iron Range is to try to pave the way for as many jobs as possible in his home area. So he opposes the anti-non-ferrous legislation, while also searching for a compromise.

Bakk said he shares the authors' concerns for the environment on the Range, but is against it because he sees it as a prohibition on non-ferrous mining.

"I love northern Minnesota as much as anybody in this Capitol," he said.

Non-ferrous mining refers to a technique that extracts copper, zinc, and other minerals from the ground.

Unlike taconite, where the main byproduct is rust, non-ferrous mining's byproduct is sulfuric acid, which can pollute lakes, rivers and even drinking water.

Tammen said even taconite mines, of which he's a strong supporter, created environmental concerns on the Range that the state is still dealing with decades later.

"We look at that and we're apprehensive," he said, "because here are problems that we've been dealing with for 30 years and they still don't have them cleaned up; there's no end in sight."

The exploration of non-ferrous mines at a handful of sites on the Range has Tammen worried.

"It's obvious that whatever our regulatory climate is, the state of Minnesota's regulatory agencies have not been capable of regulating the mining industry," he said. "We came to see if our Legislature can create a climate where we can clean up the mining industry."

Critics worry that the bill is purposely drawn so broadly that it would be a de facto prohibition on non-ferrous mining, erasing the potential for revenue and jobs from mines in Minnesota.

Iron Range lawmakers oppose the legislation, saying the state's current regulations, which were created through a collaborative effort in the 1990s, already adequately address environmental concerns.

But environmentalists and their allies say there have been too many cases around the country where mining companies filed for bankruptcy and left taxpayers holding the bag for cleanup of toxic pollutants.

Tammen said people need only to open their eyes on Range to witness the damage mining companies have caused.

"Dunka Pit has been discharging heavy metals, they had an acid drainage problem 30 years ago," he said. "Now they're proposing to bring in the copper industry and introduce some new problems when they can't take care of the old problems."

Protecting and Paying:

The legislation was authored by state Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, and Sen. Jim Carlson, DFL-Eagan.

Its main goals, Hausman said, are to ensure taxpayers aren't held liable for cleanup costs at mines, and to further restrict long-term environmental damage.

It would tighten restrictions to ensure mining operations wouldn't require cleanup after closure.

"Where this has happened in other places, it hasn't quite worked out the way mining companies have said," Hausman said. "We just want to be sure that if it's permitted, it's clear what they say they can accomplish by way of damage reduction."

The financial assurance, an upfront payment from the mining company, would be due before a permit could be approved. The amount would be based on the cost of reclamation and cleanup if the mine ceased operation.

The legislation would also require the state to conduct periodic examination of the assurance fund to ensure their accuracy.

"(Mines) have got to post some sort of financial assurance mechanism to protect the taxpayers," Hausman said. "If (mine companies) goof up, we don't want the taxpayers to be held liable."

The legislation was a reaction to the recent introduction of non-ferrous mining companies to Minnesota, along with a concern about their environmental track record, said John Tuma, government relations associate for the Minnesota Environmental Partnership, a group which spearheaded the legislation.

States like Michigan, Montana and New Mexico had acid drainage pollution that impacted water quality well after mines closed, Tuma said.

"That's the experience that other states have had," Tuma said. "They've been left with huge bills to clean up some of the problems that have been experienced."

Non-ferrous mining restrictions in Minnesota are mostly adequate, Tuma said, but allow too much leeway for mining companies to avoid post-closure cleanup by declaring bankruptcy.

"(The goal of the legislation) is that our children and grandchildren aren't left with the bill when these foreign corporations and interests come in," he said, "and then leave us with the bill of having to manage them in the future."

Current Rules Sufficient:

Frank Ongaro, executive director of industry group MiningMinnesota, said current state regulations are already some of the tightest in the nation.

"(Statutes) already are in place to ensure waters standards are met, air standards are met, and financial responsibility for reclamation is in place," he said. "No additional restrictions are necessary."

Current regulations were written with the input of environmentalists during the 1990s, he said.

Ongaro said oft-cited examples of polluting non-ferrous mines are largely outdated.

"(There) are operations in different states that haven't operated since World War Two that are totally different types of metal mining than what is being proposed here," he said.

PolyMet is a company engaged in a non-ferrous mining project on the Range that has been in state permit processes for almost four years, said Latisha Gietzen, vice-president of public, government, and environmental affairs at PolyMet.

Gietzen said the environmental review process has largely involved figuring out how to minimize environmental effects.

"We've basically looked at ways things have been done at different operations," she said. "We're going well above and beyond what other companies have."

Under their plan, PolyMet would use a combination of technologies – water treatment and reuse, along with less reliance on stockpiles and liners – to create a facility that discharged no potentially polluted surface water from the project.

Ongaro and Gietzen said the current regulatory process would help to create one of the most environmentally-friendly mines in the world.

The bill's author, Rep. Hausman, said if that is true, then the mining company has nothing to fear from the bill, which she said just formalizes current environmental standards.

"Because PolyMet and others say they won't leave any damage, we're sort of taking them at their word and saying great, those will be the parameters by which we grant the permit," Hausman said.

Prohibition or Preservation:

But both Gietzen and Ongaro agree that the legislation would prove to be a de facto ban on non-ferrous mining – something they suspect the bill's supporters realize.

"They're opposed to these projects and they're going to do what they can to slow them up, delay them or make sure there's a ban," Gietzen said.

Hausman denies the accusation, pointing to Wisconsin's requirement that companies first operate mines cleanly in other areas as an example of a ban.

"You don't see me introducing a ‘No Sulfite Mining' bill; there are some northern Minnesota environmental groups that would like us to," she said. "That's why we believe this is the compromise bill."

But the problem with the new legislation, Ongaro and Gietzmen said, is that it defines water treatment too broadly and withholds permits for projects that would require any cleanup after mine closure.

"(It limits) the type of things like passive biological treatment, the type of things you want to have," Ongaro said. "You couldn't permit a Wal-Mart parking lot under this bill."

The bill's requirement of a financial assurance fund isn't drastically different from current law, Gietzen said. PolyMet has already invested around $20 million in their environmental permit process.

The high cost of the assurance fund could negatively affect the business climate of all mining in the state at a time when Minnesotans need jobs, Ongaro said.

"Even with all the current economic problems – the decline in metal prices, the individual company stock share price declines – these projects are all still viable," he said. "We believe that this (legislation) sends a negative message to people who want to invest in mining in the state of Minnesota."

The PolyMet Environmental Impact Statement will be released by April, Gietzen said. If all goes according to plan, the mining operation could be functioning by 2010, with a one-year lag to full productivity.

The PolyMet facility would bring 400 permanent jobs to the Range, according to Gietzen, along with about 1.5 million man-hours for construction.

As Minntac and other mines face layoffs, it would be "highly ridiculous" to propose a bill that could cost more jobs on the Range, said Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm.

"We have projects that would create a lot of good jobs and I believe this bill would kill the projects," he said. "I have a very difficult time with anybody introducing bills in this economy that could potentially kill jobs, as opposed to producing jobs."

From a global environmental perspective, Gietzen said, having the project in Minnesota makes sense.

"If you're truly talking about global environment, people would be supportive of what we're doing," Gietzen said, "especially if you look at the global impact of producing copper in a smelter in China compared to what we're proposing to do here."

Shared Concerns:

Tuma, of the MEP, said the legislation's goal is to protect the environment, and that the group is more than willing to meet with concerned lawmakers to iron out details that are too restrictive.

"The philosophy of the MEP has been to work with the stakeholders to come up with legislation that not only protects the waters but preserves Minnesota jobs," Tuma said. "We're more than happy to talk with those folks, so if they have concerns we'll sit down and try to address them in a fashion that makes sense."

Sen. Bakk met with the bill's Senate author, Sen. Carlson, on Thursday to discuss his concerns. He also offered suggestions that might improve the bill's effectiveness while not serving as a de facto ban.

Although he still doesn't support the bill, Bakk suggested creating a fund that skims a little money off each mineral shipment rather than the upfront lump sum that could be cost prohibitive for companies.

"I want to make sure that for any kind of unintended environmental impacts, that there's adequate money to address them," Bakk said. "I live there; the last thing I want is to do something that has long term impacts to the water quality for my kids or my grandkids."

Anti-mining bill should get no legislative traction

Mesabi Daily News
February 21, 2009

There was absolutely nothing unexpected about the Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness last week finding some friends in the Legislature to help introduce an anti-non-ferrous mining bill.

Hey, what great idea.

The state is bleeding red ink – a projected $4.8 billion deficit for the upcoming two-year cycle, which most likely will reach up to $7 billion or more when the next revenue forecast comes out on March 3. Meanwhile, job layoffs are being announced by the hundreds in the state each and every week, including 590 at Minntac on the Range in the coming two to three weeks. That provides not only terrible human pain for the new jobless and their families, but also less state tax revenue to help fill the deficit hole.

And, of course, there is no shortage of budget requests and needs ranging from Local Government Aid to cities to K-12 funding to higher education dollars to social services for the vulnerable to hospital and nursing home care to … and the list goes on and on and on.

Yet on Thursday, DFL Rep. Alice Hausman of St. Paul heralded herself as the sponsor of a bill that would basically prohibit non-ferrous mining of copper/nickel/precious metals on the Iron Range.

She has done so even though Minnesota has some of the most stringent mining regulations in the state, which is a good thing. We have learned from our past when there were some bad mining abuses.

But the environmental process is now in place with the Department of Natural Resources and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. So let those agencies and their qualified people do their jobs.

The PolyMet non-ferrous mining project in the footprint of the former LTV Mining Co. site near Hoyt Lakes has worked in a cooperative and transparent way with the state process. After more than four years of environmental review by the company the state, a draft Environmental Impact Statement is now complete and will go to the public comment period by the end of March. And the cost of all this environmental study: More than $18 million. And who has picked up that tab: PolyMet.

The $602 million project is estimated to produce 400 permanent good-paying jobs; at least 500 spin-off jobs; 1.5 million man hours of construction work; $40 million in annual payroll; $17 million each year in local and state taxes.

This bill, produced by some environmental groups that initially had the word "prohibit" non-ferrous mining in their draft document, have one very clear intent: To block any non-ferrous mining no matter how environmentally sound it will be and no matter how low is the actual sulfide content that will be involved.

We wonder where Rep. Hausman and other supporters of this bill believe tax revenue will be found to fund all their pet projects and areas of funding dear to their hearts?

We applaud the words and efforts of Iron Range lawmakers against this legislation. And we hope they are relentless in that way in public and private with their Twin Cities DFL colleagues who want to stymie a new industry on the Iron Range and in the state of Minnesota that would provide jobs for area workers, their families and their communities.

This bill should get absolutely no traction at the State Capitol in St. Paul.

Bill would create extra hurdles for new mining operations

Timberjay Newspapers
February 21, 2009

Supporters of a bill introduced in the state Legislature on Thursday say it will protect northeastern Minnesota lakes and rivers from acid rock drainage and keep the state's taxpayers from footing the bill for any clean-up costs in the wake of proposed copper-nickel mining in the region.

Opponents of the bill say the measure would stop planned mining projects in their tracks, and halt a promising new era of job creation in the Arrowhead.

At issue is the Safe Mines to Protect Our Water bill, introduced this week by Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, and Jim Carlson, DFL-Eagan, with support from environmental groups, including Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness. Supporters say the bill would require mining companies to provide sufficient financial assurance that the state will not be stuck with longstanding pollution problems in the wake of planned mining of mineral-laden sulfide ore in the Duluth Gabbro complex running from near Aurora to Ely. The bill would also limit the ability of companies to establish mines if doing so will require permanent treatment of water runoff.

"Mining needs to be a sustainable enterprise," said Carlson. "We need to make sure sulfide mines will be good neighbors in Minnesota, providing jobs while protecting our prized waters and our state's hardworking taxpayers."

But Mining Minnesota's Frank Ongaro says the measure amounts to a virtual ban on sulfide mining in the state that will only hurt taxpayers in the long run. "This legislation will prevent significant job creation and the new revenue that would come with it for our state. We should be inviting investment into Minnesota, not chasing it away."

Of particular concern, according to Ongaro, is a provision in the bill that would make it far more difficult to establish mining operations that require permanent water treatment after closure. Such treatment is likely in the case of sulfide mines, like those proposed by PolyMet Mining, Franconia Minerals, and others, where leftover ores have the potential to leach sulfuric acid and heavy metals into adjacent watersheds. Environmentalists point to cases like the Dunka Mine, near Babbitt, where sulfide ore removed during mining operations appears to be contributing to acidic runoff into Birch Lake's Bob Bay. The Department of Natural Resources has utilized a variety of treatment methods over the years to contain the problem, and treatment at the site is likely to continue for decades.

The DNR's Bob Meier agrees that the language in the new bill would make it all but impossible to permit a sulfide mine in Minnesota, even if the mine operator used natural wetlands to treat wastewater runoff. Meier said his agency shares the concerns of the bill's authors, but believes that state agencies already have the tools they need to meet those concerns. "People need to take a detailed look at what's already on the books and understand how that works," he said. "We strongly feel that the rules and procedures in place do what the authors want to have done."

Mary Marrow, with the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, said she recognizes the water treatment portion of the bill could be controversial, but says the portion of the measure that deals with financial assurance should be less so. "There's nothing out of the ordinary in the financial assurance piece," she said, adding that it was developed after investigating related laws in other states. "We realized we needed more specifications on how to proceed. The language in current law in inadequate," she said.

Mining on the Duluth Gabbro is a particularly sensitive issue for many environmentalists in the state because, unlike most iron mining regions in Minnesota, much of the land in question drains into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. That would not be the case for the first proposed new mining operation. PolyMet Mining's NorthMet deposit, located near Hoyt Lakes, is within the St. Louis River watershed and would be unlikely to impact water quality in the BWCAW. That proposed mining operation has been under environmental review for more than three years. A draft EIS on the project is expected to be released publicly within weeks.

Ongaro says that environmental review process provides a transparent opportunity for the public to raise concerns about the impacts of a mining operation. That's "where the issues are and should be addressed," he said.

Minn. lawmakers look at new mining restrictions

Associated Press / Minneapolis Star Tribune
February 20, 2009

ST. PAUL, Minn. – By some accounts, northeastern Minnesota has one of the largest undeveloped deposits for copper, nickel and precious metals in the world.

The proposed mining site, which sits in a region dotted with lakes and streams that empty into Lake Superior, is also creating a new environmental struggle in the Minnesota Legislature at the same time the state looks at ways to create more jobs.

Companies have mined iron ore in northeastern Minnesota for over a century, but the possibility of nonferrous mining has brought up new environmental concerns. Nonferrous mining there would require a process to separate the metals from sulfide minerals. If it isn't done right, sulfuric acid can be a byproduct that can escape and contaminate water.

"This is not like iron mining. When there's runoff in iron mining you have rust. Sulfide mining leads to something much more difficult to clean up," said state Rep. Alice Hausman, a Democrat from St. Paul who wants to make sure Minnesota has tougher restrictions on nonferrous mining.

As the state's first such mining project moves closer to completing its environmental review process, Hausman and other state lawmakers are moving forward with legislation that they say would help Minnesota avoid the long-term negative environmental effects other states have experienced.

The legislation would come with stricter rules on financial assurance – the money a mining company has to have available so that if it leaves or becomes bankrupt, government won't be stuck footing a cleanup bill.

The legislation would also require a mining company to establish ahead of time that when the mine closes, water flowing from and through the site won't need to be treated before emptying into the waters where Minnesotans fish, canoe and watch wildlife.

Too often, environmentalists say, old mines are left in such a dirty state that they need to be treated forever.

"Once they finish their mining, they ought to be able to close up their site and there would be no water treatment required. In other words, it's back to the green fields you started with. That's our goal," said Peter Fleming of Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness.

But the companies hoping to develop the mining operations say that proposal is so strict that nonferrous mining might no longer be possible under state law, which could deny northern Minnesota thousands of jobs at several potential nonferrous mining sites.

"Prohibit a permit for any mine that requires treatment post-closure and you essentially have a ban," said Frank Ongaro, who directs the nonferrous industry group MiningMinnesota and represents the mining companies' interests at the state Capitol. "That's extremely disappointing, especially at a time when the state needs jobs."

PolyMet Mining Corp., the company hoping to open a copper and nickel mine near Hoyt Lakes, said the definition of water treatment is too broad. "There's not a single industry in the state of Minnesota that could meet that standard," said spokeswoman LaTisha Gietzen.

A ban isn't the bill's intent, said state Sen. Jim Carlson, a Democrat from Eagan who worked with Hausman to craft the legislation. Carlson, a retired mechanical engineer, said that as the bill moves through the committee process, he'll be interested to hear the companies' more technical arguments about why the legislation could stop nonferrous mining in Minnesota. For now, he's skeptical.

"If they say they can't do it, what that means is that the threat of this pollution is too great for them to resolve," he said.

Two Republicans have already signed on in support of the bill, which was introduced this week. If it continues gaining bipartisan support, it could pass out of the Legislature – despite opposition from northern Minnesota Democrats who have defended mine interests over the years. A spokesman said Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty is familiar with the issue but hasn't gotten a chance to study this specific bill.

Rep. Tom Rukavina, a Democrat from Virginia, said nonferrous mining is a prime opportunity in Minnesota to create jobs and satisfy demand for metals while using mining techniques that are much cleaner than those used in other countries.

"The same people that are behind (the restrictions) are the same people that want us to pass legislation for renewable energy, pass legislation for electric cars," Rukavina said. "All of those things, whether it's a wind turbine or a battery for an electric car, use these metals.

"Are you going to mine them in the Amazon where there's no restrictions and just turn your head and pretend you're not polluting the world?"

Rukavina is particularly sensitive to the need for job creation as nearly 1,000 mining jobs have been cut in Minnesota in the past year, including 590 layoffs announced this week at the Minntac Mine in Mountain Iron. Minnesota's overall unemployment rate is at nearly 7 percent and is predicted to grow. The PolyMet project alone would bring 400 permanent jobs to the state.

Other states in the Upper Midwest have responded to new nonferrous mining projects in different ways. Wisconsin has a mining moratorium designed to make mining companies prove that similar mines elsewhere operated without harming the environment.

In Michigan, a company must establish beforehand that its mine won't need so-called perpetual care to protect natural resources long after the mine closes. A proposed nickel and copper mine in the state's Upper Peninsula has been delayed by market conditions and by challenges to the project's permits.

In Montana, where a former copper mine near Butte became one of the country's largest federal cleanup sites, at least one environmentalist said the risks of nonferrous mining are still too great.

"It's something worth avoiding for the state of Minnesota," said Jim Jensen, executive director of the Montana Environmental Information Center. "Certainly placing Lake Superior at risk is a bad choice for our society."

Sen. Tomassoni blasts legislation targeting mining

Mesabi Daily News
February 20, 2009

ST. PAUL – Legislation that would put new restrictions and requirements on non-ferrous mining operations in Minnesota was introduced in both the state House and Senate Thursday.

Non-ferrous mining refers to a process for extracting copper, nickel, zinc and gold, among other minerals.

Although there are currently no operating non-ferrous mines in Minnesota, a handful of companies are exploring possible sites on the Iron Range, with a few being years into the permit process. A draft Environmental Impact Statement for the PolyMet non-ferrous mine slated for the footprint of the former LTV Mining Co. site has been completed, and the public comment period should kick in by the end of March. The PolyMet venture would create an estimated 400 permanent good-paying jobs with an annual payroll of $40 million, more than 500 spin-off jobs and more than 1.5 million hours of construction work.

With taconite mines, a main wastewater byproduct is harmless rust, but non-ferrous mines can produce sulfuric acid which can pollute lakes, rivers and drinking water supplies.

However, supporters of the copper/nickel/precious metals ventures on the Range say Minnesota already has strict environmental standards in place that mining companies must and will meet.

The House author, Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, said the legislation was a reaction to other non-ferrous mines across the country that have extracted all the minerals and declared bankruptcy, leaving states to pay for the cleanup.

In order to receive a mining permit, the legislation would require mining companies to create a fund equal to the cost of cleanup were they to cease operations.

"Now I think we just say if a permit is granted, (mining companies) have to assure that there won't be damage," she said. "The further step is to say that if they do damage, they post a financial assurance mechanism so that the taxpayer is protected."

It would also require companies to meet stringent standards demonstrating that the mine would not require "water treatment" after the mine's closure – a clause that Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, said is excessively broad and could threaten Range mining operations.

"This bill is not necessary because the laws are already in place to do this," he said. "There's no reason for it, I think the agencies dealing with the issue are well prepared."

With the current economic crisis, Tomassoni said the legislation was an attempt to kill or delay non-ferrous mining projects on the Range that are currently in the permit process.

"I think the timing of the bill couldn't be worse," Tomassoni said. "I have a very difficult time with anybody introducing bills in this economy that could potentially kill jobs, as opposed to producing jobs."

Tomassoni was saying that while bearing the weight of bad economic news within his Senate District 5 – the layoff of 590 workers at the US Steel Minntac taconite mine in Mountain Iron.

Hausman said imposing a mining moratorium was not her intention. She wanted to ensure that taxpayers were protected were the mines to fail in their vows to cause no permanent pollution.

"If they're saying they can do it without polluting, this bill is not an obstacle to them," she said. "Anyone who tells you (they won't pollute), they would have to explain to you why it's a moratorium."

MiningMinnesota Statement in Response to Friends of the BWCA Legislation

February 18, 2009

Saint Paul, Minn. (Feb. 18, 2009) – The mining industry is extremely disappointed with the planned introduction of the bill announced today by the Friends of the BWCA that will prohibit new non-ferrous mining development in Minnesota. 

Our state is facing the largest budget challenge in history and companies across the state are cutting jobs. This legislation will prevent significant job creation and the new revenue that would come with it for our state. We should be inviting investment into Minnesota, not chasing it away.

MiningMinnesota companies are committed to environmentally-safe mining and are demonstrating that they will meet or exceed Minnesota's existing environmental standards. These standards are some of the strictest in the country.  

Minnesota Regulatory Agencies already have all the authority necessary in statute and rules to assure air and water quality and financial responsibility. The current rules are good, strong standards that were promulgated with input and participation from all groups, including environmental groups. No additional restrictions are necessary.

Non-ferrous mining will bring thousands of great-paying, enduring jobs and tens of millions of dollars to cities, schools, and the State. It will also bring more than $1 Billion into the School Trust Fund for school districts all across Minnesota. By mining copper, nickel, and precious metals in Minnesota, we will also be helping to reduce the global carbon footprint (80% of global copper production is still done with a smelter).

PolyMet Mining, the first non-ferrous mining project, expects its draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to be published for public comment near the end of the first quarter this year. The open, transparent, and thorough public process is the place for all parties to have input regarding a project and its ability to meet our strict Minnesota environmental standards. The environmental review process is where the issues are and should be addressed.

About MiningMinnesota

MiningMinnesota is an initiative driven by a diverse coalition of organizations, companies and individuals committed to sustainable and environmentally responsible non-ferrous (non-iron) mining development in Minnesota. MiningMinnesota works with local citizens, businesses and other organizations to bring growth and job creation to the state through responsible development of natural resources.

Anti-non-ferrous mining bill ready

Mesabi Daily News
February 18, 2009

ST. PAUL – Legislation championed by environmental groups that would impose new restrictions on non-ferrous mining projects in Minnesota will be introduced today.

The bill, which is not a surprise to Range lawmakers and mining supporters, would require companies to create a fund before mining operations begin. It is being introduced by state Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul.

Environmentalists said the funds would help ensure the state wasn't left to pick up the tab for environmental cleanup when mining companies go bankrupt, as other states have in the past. But Frank Ongaro, executive director of Mining Minnesota, an organization of non-ferrous mining ventures, said the legislation would effectively kill any copper/nickel/precious metals project.

"It's clearly a bill that would prohibit non-ferrous mining in Minnesota," Ongaro said. "Environmental groups have said they don't want to prohibit non-ferrous mining in the state. But their written words obviously speak louder than their verbal words."

"I'd say almost every sulfide mine, it seems like, has had problems with acid mine drainage," said Greg Sietz communications director for Friends of the Boundary Waters WIlderness. "That causes all kinds of problems with polluting our waters and leaving taxpayers liable."

Allies of non-ferrous mining, which includes copper, zinc, gold, platinum and palladium among other metals, said the legislation was not only a transparent attempt by environmentalists to ban all non-ferrous mining, it could threaten all mining.

Rep. Tom Rukavina said the bill was so broadly written that it might endanger other forms of mining, like gravel and taconite.

"Basically the bill is intended to discourage copper/nickel mining in Minnesota and almost make it impossible," Rukavina said.

Environmentalists deny the charge.

"We specifically wrote this bill so it would not be a ban on this type of mining," Sietz said. "What this is, is a prohibition on pollution."

It would also place severe restrictions on mining operations that require "perpetual treatment" of water in an attempt to limit acid mine drainage, often a byproduct of this sort of mining.

The acids can pollute lakes, rivers and groundwater supplies, and poses a threat to human and animal health through absorption of the sometimes toxic minerals it carries.

The bill could have a big impact on the handful of non-ferrous mines that are currently in the permit phase in Minnesota. That includes the PolyMet project, which is the furthest along and slated for the footprint of the former LTV Mining Co. site near Hoyt Lakes. A draft Environmental Impact Statement for PolyMet was completed a few weeks ago. Department of Natural Resources officials have said it will be put out for public review by the end of March.

Officials estimate the $602 million PolyMet project would create more than 400 good-paying jobs, at least 500 spin-off jobs and more than 1.5 million man hours of construction work.

Critics of the bill said the long permit process for the PolyMet project was evidence that Minnesota already has sufficient regulation for mining.

"State agencies have all the regulatory authority necessary to assure water quality, air quality and financial responsibility for reclamation. No additional restrictions on non-ferrous mining are necessary," Ongaro said.

Rukavina said the non-ferrous mines currently in permit phase would pump money and jobs into the state, while ensuring that minerals needed for technologies like clean energy are obtained in an environmentally responsible way.

"We're going to make sure that our (mines) protect the waters, protect the boundary waters, and is done right, and is the cleanest most efficient copper-nickel mine in the world," he said.

Non-ferrous mining draws lobbyists

Mesabi Daily News
February 16, 2009

ST. PAUL – Traveling through the halls of the State Capitol are lobbyists employed by non-profit organizations, cities and special interest groups.

Sometimes, their interests converge. More often, they collide.

That's been the case in the past few years as mining companies engaged in a prolonged permit process to mine non-ferrous minerals – copper, nickel, platinum, palladium, gold and zinc among others – have lobbied legislators in an attempt to keep non-ferrous mining requirements where they have been since the 1990s. Mining lobbyists argue that current environmental regulations are already sufficient.

To convince legislators of this, they've dangled the enticements of economic growth, jobs and the Range's mining history.

On the other side, lobbyists for environmental groups plan to introduce legislation that will place restrictions on non-ferrous mining, which they say emits polluting acids.

It's a conflict that lines up not only paid lobbyists for special interest groups and industry, but often legislators who are divided by regional affiliation, as urban lawmakers largely line up beside environmentalists and Range lawmakers beside the mines.

It embodies the everyday struggle taking place in the Capitol between different interest groups, as each provides legislators with information and analysis supporting their views and interests, and leaving them to decide.

For about two years, Frank Ongaro, executive director of MiningMinnesota, an organization made up of six key mining companies, has represented the interests of non-ferrous mineral mining at the state capitol.

While people generally think that lobbyists' jobs consist of advocating for new legislation, Ongaro has spent the last two years playing defense, and advising legislators to resist legislation that would put more environmental restrictions on non-ferrous mines.

This session, Ongaro and allies are gearing up for the likelihood that the Minnesota Environmental Partnership will introduce this very legislation.

Most of the mine projects Ongaro represents have been going through the permit process for the last three years.

They're owned by companies like Teck Cominco, Franconia Minerals and PolyMet Mining.

He and other lobbyists argue that current regulations for non-ferrous mines are already sufficient.

To convince lawmakers and the public of this, Ongaro and allies argue the financial benefit of non-ferrous mines, which they put at about $242 million for just the PolyMet plant in St. Louis County.

A powerful impulse during this economic recession, they also cite expected job growth, which could be around 400 for the PolyMet venture alone.

"These are solid economic development opportunities for hundreds or thousands of jobs in Minnesota," he said.

The lobbyists' goal for the session is to ensure lawmakers remain supportive of the project and understand possible benefits, Ongaro said.

"Our focus is to make sure there's public information about how these companies can benefit the state," Ongaro said, "that they're all solid, thoroughly regulated projects, and that they'll meet or exceed the state's strict environmental standards."

Most of the mining companies employ their own lobbyists in addition to employing Ongaro for the association.

LaTisha Gietzen, vice president for public, government, and environmental affairs for PolyMet Mining, is also listed as a lobbyist under state guidelines.

In her job, she relays her fears to the public and politicians that new regulations could cripple non-ferrous mining efforts by setting unreasonable expectations.

"My concern is that they'll say it's not a ban on mining, but when you read it that it will be a ban on mining," she said. "We just want to introduce and explain it to people."

The regulations are adequate, she said, because they were created to deal with the same concerns environmentalists currently hold about the projects' potential to pollute waters.

"It was an open process that environmental groups and legislative groups participated in the ‘90s to create the rules that are in place today," she said.

The Range delegation of lawmakers has shown interest in the economic and employment contributions of the mines, Ongaro said.

"The Range delegation has continued to be tremendous supporters of moving these projects forward," Ongaro said. "They're doing everything to make sure that their colleagues understand not only the implications to the region but also to the entire state."

Gietzen said she hasn't been down to the Capitol yet this session, although as a Ranger, she says, she sometimes runs into lawmakers locally.

She expects to visit the Capitol this week.

Ongaro is recognized as a lobbyist by the state of Minnesota under a group called the Minnesota Exploration Association, according to state records. Over the last year, the MEA declared more than $6,000 in lobbying costs, including travel and dining expenses.

PolyMet Mining Inc. declared $265 in costs for legislative lobbying for 2008 for its two registered lobbyists, most of which was spent on lodging and travel.

Those figures come from the Minnesota Campaign Finance & Public Disclosure site of the Secretary of State.

Ongaro defines his role in the political process as a provider of information on local and economic impacts of non-ferrous mining.

"Whether it's the mining industry, whether it's local units of government, whether it's the financial industry or anybody else, government officials and elected officials are only as good as the information provided to them," Ongaro said. "They need to hear all sides of every story, and our role, like everyone else, should be to provide them with accurate information."

Mining still viable

Mesabi Daily News
February 7, 2009

The economic downturn afflicting the country since late fall so far has made some inroads in mining on the Iron Range as of early February, but has not yet slowed three major new projects from moving ahead.

· About a hundred workers have retired, taken voluntary layoff or have been involuntarily laid off at Hibbing Taconite.

• About 400 workers at Keewatin Taconite were laid off in December when U.S. Steel idled the plant, but about 150 of those employees have been handling maintenance duties at Minntac.

· Essar Steel Minnesota, PolyMet Mining (non-ferrous) and Mesabi Nugget continue to move ahead with development plans.

"It's about a hundred" workers affected, Cliffs Natural Resources Minnesota district public affairs director Maureen Talarico said of employees at Cliffs-managed Hibbing Taconite.

Some workers took retirement, some quit and some took voluntary layoffs, she said.

About 35 workers were involuntarily laid off on Jan. 11. About seven more will be involuntarily laid off in March, she added.

At United Taconite in Eveleth and Forbes, which Cliffs owns and operates, the 32-hour workweek currently in place will be extended to May when "there will be major repairs," Talarico said.

Some workers will be asked to take two weeks of their vacation then, before a production line is brought back up in mid-June.

At non-union Northshore Mining, the third taconite plant that Cliffs operates, there are no layoffs foreseen, while two furnaces that were shut down late last year will remain so.

The company has been talking with the United Steelworkers during this period, Talarico said. "The union's been real good to work with."

At U.S. Steel's Minntac plant in Mountain Iron, about 150 workers from its idled Keetac plant have been working there in lieu of contract workers, said U.S. Steel spokesman John Armstrong. He declined to give any more specifics.

A union representative at USW Local 2660 at Keewatin who would not give his name confirmed Friday that the Keetac employees are still working at Minntac.

· USW Local 6118 President Ray Pierce Sr. said last week that there have been no layoffs at the ArcelorMittal plant near Virginia, but there was a possibility that a routine maintenance shutdown in mid-April could be extended through July, depending on the economy.

The local has been talking with the company about retaining workers during any shutdown, Pierce said. "We're trying to give everyone we can a chance to work."

· Essar Steel Minnesota spokesperson Deb McGovern said Thursday that the planned $1.6 billion steelmaking plant was "still moving forward with the project."

A site grading contract is expected to be let this spring, which is "a big milestone for us," she said.

· The PolyMet non-ferrous mining project continues to move ahead, with the last batch of comments on a proposed draft environmental impact statement submitted by Jan. 26. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is reviewing the comments.

The DNR, lead state agency, is expected to be putting out a draft of the public comments and will be determining which portions might need some work yet in the first quarter.

Financing is not a problem for the fledgling operation as, the company "entered into a partnership with Glencoe," a company with non-ferrous experience, said spokesperson Latisha Gietzen.

"As soon as we get a permit, we'll be gearing up for construction," she added.

· The Mesabi Nugget project continues to move ahead with construction, having lost only seven days of work so far during the cold 2008-09 winter.

"By August, we should be up and running and making nuggets," operations manager Steve Rutherford said in the Jan. 25 MDN.